‘Edgy’ antics on air aren’t funny — they’re bullying

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By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioScrutiny of the radio business has probably never been higher than in recent weeks, and most of the attention has not been positive.

Shock talkers have been the biggest targets, as one scandal seems to be followed quickly by another, and high-profile personalities are either getting fired or placed on long suspensions as a result of broadcasting offensive material under the guise of being edgy or funny.

Only thing is, there is no humor in racial and ethnic stereotyping, as Don Imus and New York City personalities JV & Elvis have shown, or in references to rape, as satellite radio bad boys Opie & Anthony recently did. You’ve lost your edge when you resort to making fun or taking advantage of others and label it as entertainment.

Twenty- and 30-something men are falling all over themselves across the Internet in protest of the actions being taken against these so-called talents, mostly claiming free-speech violations. The Rev. Al Sharpton, in an appearance in Troy last week, had the perfect answer, correctly explaining that free speech is a two-way street.

I commend those who exert their right of free speech against what essentially has become sanctioned bullying over the airwaves.

Most schools now have strict policies against bullying as a way to address the kinds of issues that may have played a role in the tragedies at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Virginia Tech earlier this spring. Over and over again, we hear questions of what could have been done to prevent these kinds of horrible events.

Maybe society is starting to figure out that one of the most important things we can do is be consistent in our messages. If we’re not going to accept bullying in our schools, it’s time to stop accepting that kind of programming on the radio, too.

For those who get their kicks out of hearing the bits that are now rightly under scrutiny, I invite you to talk to some victims of ethnic hate crimes or rape and see if there is anything funny about their stories. Or maybe just talk to a kid that has been bullied and honestly try to learn how that feels.

Let’s get radio back to a place where true creativity and humor take center stage without all the unnecessary degradation of people who might look or act differently. Let’s let Paul W. Smith, Dick Purtan, John Mason and countless others both locally and nationally give some lessons on how a real radio pro should act on the air.

Radio isn’t dead — it just needs to let the best rise to the top again and minimize the desire to always be in the spotlight for being on the edge. As we’re learning, hanging out on that edge might just mean you’re due to fall off.

 • • • • • • • • 

If you live near downtown Rochester, you can hear a “new” radio station at 105.5 FM. The station you’re hearing is a translator, which is essentially a low-powered transmitter that duplicates the programming of a more distant full-powered station.

Right now, FM 105.5 is rebroadcasting the classic rock sounds of WQUS-FM (103.1) in Lapeer, which is a bit surprising, as this translator is owned by the Educational Media Foundation, which also owns contemporary Christian WAKL-FM (88.9) in Flint.

When EMF applied to the FCC for permission to build 105.5 FM, it stated that it intended to carry WAKL, obviously hoping to expand the coverage for its “K-Love” programming into the metro Detroit area. EMF possesses several other permits to build more of these translators in Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne counties.

I believe that the rebroadcast of WQUS is only temporary, and it’s likely happening because getting a reliable signal from WAKL to broadcast on 105.5 is nearly impossible in Rochester due to the close proximity of CIMX-FM (88.7) on the dial. EMF had to put this translator on the air this month, as the permit from the FCC to build it would have expired and been lost had it not been completed within the three years allotted.

Because of the limited coverage areas of these translator stations, it will be interesting to see if they develop any kind of following in the Detroit area once EMF completes building them and gets the programming they want on them.

 • • • • • • • • 

Quick hits: The deadline to nominate a “woman who makes magic” to soft rock WMGC-FM (105.1) for its annual banquet is May 31. About 30 local women will be honored by emcee John Tesh at a June 11 banquet in Warren. Visit www.detroitmagic.com for more details ... Rock WRIF-FM (101.1) named Taylor Robinson as its 2007 “WRIF Rock Girl.” She wins a $40,000 salary for the year and will be tasked with making personal appearances for the station, in addition to doing afternoon traffic reports and being part of a new billboard campaign for the ’Rif ... Also, WRIF’s ninth annual HarleyFest is June 16 at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will benefit The Rainbow Connection. Over the past eight years, HarleyFest has helped to raise more than $290,000 for various charities ... WDFN-AM (1130) has officially announced that home improvement guru Murray Gula will join the station for weekend mornings 8-10 a.m. as early as the first weekend of June. Gula was recently sidelined but is recovering from multiple bypass heart surgery.

 • • • • • • • • 

Set your dial: “Somewhere in Time’s” monthly focus on pipe organ music this week features 20-year-old Mark Herman playing a rare Page organ. Tune in at 6 p.m. today on WMUZ-FM (103.5) or WRDT-AM (560).

 • • • • • • • • 

Mike Austerman is the founder of Michiguide.com and has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.

Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, May 20, 2007



How about not listening to the said radio show? It really is that damn simple. If you don't like it DONT LISTEN TO IT. It is satire, it is comedy. Relax buddy. NO ONE IS GETTING HURT BY THESE COMMENTS.

Right on Mike! "No one is hurt..."? You miss the main point Jack. The sophomoric drivel at best and mean spiritedness at worst that has become the norm on radio today is one of the catalysts to the dumbing down of our society. Nastiness DOES hurt us as a society. It is naive to assume "don't like it don't listen" will solve it for maleable minds of young listeners or less discerning adults. The kind of "comedy" you refer to at the expense of others is a cop out for human intelligence & talent... if we are to rely on BASE instincts then we've learned nothing in thousands of years.

So Bob, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that we need the government (i.e. Big Brother) to step in and decide what is appropriate for our "delicate ears" to hear. After all, we're CLEARLY not capable of deciding that for ourselves, so let's hand it over to Big Brother, because after all, Big Brother knows best.

Sorry....I don't want Big Brother involved in this in any way, shape or form.

Whether or nor what Opie and Anthony did was sophmoric and offensive is beside the point. We live in America, where nobody has a right NOT to be offended. In recent year, however, we've been taken over by political correctness run amock. Now, it has manifested itself in some big body that has taken on the "cause" of deciding what we can listen to, and when.

Now, I'm all for free enterprise, and letting the marketplace decide what hits the air, but in this case, there is a third element....a government element, and that's why it disturbs me. There is a merger pending between XM and Sirius (which I hope does not go through), and XM is obviously jittery about the government's denial of this merger, based upon what was said on the Opie and Anthony show. So much for free enterprise and the open marketplace.

You said:

"It is naive to assume 'don't like it don't listen' will solve it for maleable minds of young listeners or less discerning adults."

This may sound harsh Bob, but "less discerning adults" are not my concern. Once you hit the age of consent, you're on your own. If you're old enough to join the military and lay your life down in Iraq, you're old enough to decide what you want to read in a magazine, see on TV or hear on the radio. You don't need the "morality police" following you around.

As far as the "maleable minds of young listeners", they are their parents' responsibility, not mine, and not the government's. I have absolutely NO place telling another parent what to let their kids listen to. If I THINK I do, then I'm nothing more than a busybody with too much time on my hands. I have my own kids to raise, and I don't need to add the responsibility of raising someone else's kids.

So what's next Bob? Are you going to place a monitor at all of the gas stations, so that when a 25 year-old asks for a pack of smokes, the monitor can step up and say "Sorry....these are bad for you....I can't let you buy them"? You may think that's a ridiculous example to cite, but I can guarantee you, we're headed in that direction. We won't have to worry about deciding....Big Brother will decide for us.

We have become such a lazy society....devoid of any critical thinking, and willing to hop aboard the quickest knee-jerk reaction to anything. We want someone to look out for us, take care of us, and shelter us, and we can have all of that....at the cost of our liberties. If you want to see an example of that, look no further than the so-called "Patriot Act".

Dan. I'm not advocating big brother government rules & regulations as the answer (although I don't think we were particularily hurt by the " 7 words one can't use on the air " as in the George Carlin shtick). I DO think that public outrage is a perfectly acceptable way to counter wayward & hurtful material though. I guess I was unclear about "don't like- don't listen" in that I think it's the responsibilty of citizens who find this crap on the public airwaves as unacceptable to become more proactive in letting their views be known...to the broadcaster or to their sponsors, (Sure there will be those who advocate silly things- but so be it). As to where we've come re; this subject, it is certainly as much (or more) the fault of management as it is the "shockster". Continuing to test the limits in the name of free speech is, to me, akin to the Kalashnikov toting zealot who claims :God is great" before unloading a round or two. In the name of God, or in the name of free speech...things are promoted that have nothing to do with either one. I'm politically left leaning, but on this subject I guess I have to admit a more conservative view.

Bob, I would agree with you if I thought this was only a campaign of economic pressure on the part of citizens' groups or advertisers. After all, I believe that the economic boycott is one of the most sacred of our forms of expression. However, Opie and Anthony have done things worse than this in their satellite radio tenure, and did not see consequences like they did this time around. Based upon that, I have to conclude that the disciplinary action this time around has something to do with the XM/Sirius merger, and fears that the FTC may not approve the merger if they "hear something they don't like". That makes it a government censorship issue.

As far as the "public airwaves" are concerned, might I remind you that the satellite radio spectrums are not "public" airwaves. They are private, in that cash consideration is required to receive satellite programming (as opposed to terrestrial radio, which is free to the listener). When cash consideration is introduced into the equation, the rules change. That is why The Sopranos can drop all the F-bombs they want on HBO....because someone has to PAY to have that channel piped into their home, and so it goes with satellite radio. The FCC, at this point, has absolutely no regulatory power (at least on paper) over the content of satellite radio, and as long as it's a pay service, they never should!

If this were just about an economic boycott, I think O&A would still be on the bird right now, but I think there's a lot more going on behind the scenes that we're not aware of.

All of our freedoms have limits. I agree with you Dan that having government limit our speech is an incredibly dangerous thing. However, the process of society policing itself is just as important as the underlying freedom. If we (society) allowed unlimited freedom of speech, it becomes incredibly polarizing and would ultimately result in what you fear - government regulation. It's already happened, look no further than ethnic intimidation laws.

A couple of examples to illustrate my point: Right now, we're in the midst of another crack down on drivers not wearing their seat belts. I question why we need seat belt laws at all, and indeed helmet laws. If only a vast majority people were responsible enough to understand and respect themselves (and physics) we wouldn't have these laws. But, instead in the name of saving lives, we now have seat belt laws because as humans, we just naturally test the limits and most of us believe 'it can't happen to me', especially when we're young. So now it's pretty much just become an accepted thing - the government protecting us from ourselves when it comes to seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

On the freedom of speech, just look at what's happened to the political forums over on the Buzzboard. The abuse of a few people exercising their so-called freedom of speech have resulted in what are essential closed forums that put limits on who can participate. There was no threat of government intervention there - and yet, there are now limits.

Is the kind of speech that is resulting in these radio firings and suspensions really something that needs to be stuck up for? Or is it doing harm, not only to the targets of the comments, but to those of us that believe our freedom of speech is a precious right that needs to be there when we truly need it? Maybe by denouncing this kind of stuff, what we're actually doing is preventing government intervention.

The ultimate question is -- where is that line between denouncing and defending someone's speech? Clearly to me, the comments in question here caused some type of 'harm' to the people they were targeted at. I say this because of the outcry from the groups of people involved. As someone who was not a target of those comments, who am I to judge what they are feeling about them?

This is a compelling subject because there is no black and white answer that will please everyone.

Mike, you and I can both agree on one key thing....that there is plenty of gray area to go around.

As a self-professed Libertarian who has made my politics known in other forums, you already know my positions on seat belt and helmet laws, as well as my takes on drug and prostitution laws, but I have had to concede that there are plenty of folks who don't view the validity of these laws from the same perspective that I do.

You and I probably do agree that these matters are best handled in the private sector (specifically, the economic sector). After all, it was a bus boycott which started the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 60's. Boycotts have been effectively used over the years from everyone from Jerry Falwell to Caesar Chavez, and I believe that the most powerful tool we as consumers have to vote with is our own pocketbooks. That's why I support the current subscriber boycott of XM. Of course, companies can boycott too, by not spending their advertising dollars on platforms whose programs they may not agree with. Ultimately, this situation will be resolved in the favor of who has more financial pull.

Like I said earlier, if there hadn't been a merger in the works, XM likely wouldn't have taken the steps they took, and we wouldn't be discussing this right now. I do hope that one good thing comes out of all of this, in that this proposed merger is not allowed to proceed by the FTC. What we don't need is another telecommunications monopoly with no competition.

As one of my favorite radio talk hosts would say, it is intriguing to "peel away the layers of this onion".

Both Imus and O&A got in trouble because MANAGEMENT didn’t want to lose money. The consumer has the right to buy or not to buy a product. This is what boycotts are all about. It had nothing to do with government coming in and silencing them. I find it odd that many Imus and O&A supporters (Hannity and the like) who are in fear of free speech being curtailed are the same ones who wanted to get Rosie off the View. Why is it that when someone picks on the little guy its considered free speech but when someone takes on Bush (or any other politician) it’s considered treasonous. When CBS wanted to make the Regan movie a lot of folks like Hannity wanted to boycott CBS. You would have thought someone smacked their grandma and kicked their dog. It seems strange that these guys are now pro free speech. It comes down to who’s ox is getting gored.






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This page contains a single entry by Mike Austerman published on May 20, 2007 8:58 AM.

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